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Writing During the Pandemic

My daughter, Lily Mullen, is 23 years old and is a writer. I started writing like a wild woman at that age, too. I sometimes envy Lily’s confidence about being a writer. She will go out for a walk with or without the dog for about half an hour, rush through the front door, slam it, grab her notebook and sit cross-legged on her bed for an hour and write. Words flow out of her onto the notebook. A solid short story about a woman runner who lives in Alaska (where I’m originally from). Or a poem full of preteen angst about feeling down and the beauty of parking her tricycle under a magnolia tree and looking up, how trees make everything better, how she is unsure about love, how the world should be kinder to people who have Down syndrome. She has a tutor who helps her learn about punctuation etc.

My first book of poetry, Zephyr, was published in 2010 by Salmon Poetry in Ireland (where Lily was born and where we lived until 2015 when we moved to Forest Grove, Oregon). Zephyr is about my childhood in Alaska and Lily’s childhood in Co. Galway, Ireland. The nights in University College Hospital were lonely and I was worried about everything, even her lack of crying:

Born a few hours after the signing
of the Good Friday Peace Agreement
we lay in St. Catherine’s Ward alone
she on my stomach
leaf-weight and quiet.
While other family-shrouded babies howled
my fingers traced her loveliness.

On sending her off to first grade I wrote:

First Class Trisomy 21

The moon is a big C
Hoola-hoop a perfect O
Crust of toast an L
Two plates make and 8
Life vest pressed
against tiny chest
she dives.

When Covid-19 rocked the world we found solace in our small back yard, our dog and poetry.

Lily mourned the abrupt end to her fantastic internship at Kaiser Westside Hospital through Project Search. I vacillated between fright, anger and hope. We felt lucky to have garden and fresh air. All was not always rosy; for two wordsmiths living together we used some pretty stupid words occasionally. But we also let the creativity come forth. Leaf prints, dance-chats over the fence with our little neighbor girls, writing letters to people who were doing good things, writing dreams, writing about birds at Fernhill Wetlands. I took online poetry classes from San Francisco Creative Writing Institute and Hugo House in Seattle.

The classes imposed much needed discipline on me. A Poets on the Coast workshop I had taken started a Friday submission club which gently forced me to submit my work to literary magazines. Lily’s poems became songs. I was living with a singer songwriter, one that fancied herself as Taylor Swift or Ariana Grande. Music lifted us for a while but the Covid isolation mosquitoed. Lily was rescued by becoming involved with NWDSA’s Self Advocacy group for young adults, and later, a music group for young adults via Zoom, and a health group, too.

She got encouragement from her peers about life and her writing. Thank you to the leaders of those groups. Post-vaccinations, she got to meet her peers in person. Joy! Electronics were a blessing and a curse during Covid. Poetry was our true north. Poetry took us out of ourselves into other people’s homes. I read Maggie Smith’s poem Good Bones a hundred times; its punchiness kept me searching for beauty.

I read women poets from Alaska and Ireland. I read tons of poems written by Ted Kooser. Oregon poets Paulann Peterson and Kim Stafford. All those chiseled and polished words were a salve to an older single mother and her sassy daughter who was just beginning to understand the concept of ‘future.’

Reading ‘On Tyranny’ by Timothy Snyder, March 2017
By Mary Mullen

morning comes easily on 26th Ave
the short yellow bus is long gone
birds—geese or pelicans or swans
chorus over Forest Grove—too many trees
to see them but their voices are strong
Hilda’s house across the street is still pale yellow
children walk to school ten bounces in front of their parents
or duckling behind
another flock sings overhead
Chase, the neighbor’s rescued dog,
weeps for his people and so do I

I Call Myself Home
A Poem by Lily Mullen

I call myself home, wherever I am, I call myself home.
I can do things that make me feel like home.
My family is my home, and my friends, too.
I call myself home whenever I am doing something useful around my house
I can persuade myself to my own dreams of music in my lifetime,
I call myself home where I should be in my life.
I can easily do things I like. No one tells me.
I like my loved ones to do things with me
Because I can do things in my own time,
In my own ways of living, I call myself home.
I like the feeling of being home then I do things outside
For a long time, like playing music in nature
And finally go back home
What can I do to love myself again…
I call myself home not always alone.

Mary Mullen’s second collection of poetry will be published spring of 2022 by Hardscratch Press.

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